Friday, February 17, 2006

Information asymmetry, the doctor and the patient

I have been reading the book, Freakonomics, by Levitt and Dubner, and am thoroughly enjoying it . I admire anyone who can explain difficult concepts so lucidly and entertainingly !
I was struck by the chapter , "The Ku Klux Klan and Real-Estate Agents" , where they introduce the concept of information asymmetry. One of the reasons why experts have the upper hand in encounters with consumers is because they have more information.
A lot of what they say applies to doctors and patients.
" ... a face-to-face encounter with an expert might actually exacerbate the problem of asymmetrical information - situations in which an expert ( read doctor) uses his informational advantage to make us feel stupid or rushed or cheap or ignoble."
As a thoughtful doctor once put it, "The reason doctors are on pedestals is because patients are on their knees !"
" Armed with information, experts can exert a gigantic, if unspoken leverage: fear". Doctors become quite expert at playing on patients' ( and their relatives) fears, and often scare them into performing unnecessary tests and uncalled for surgery.
The best way of overcoming this is with Information Therapy - we need to equalise the playing field, and the internet is a great tool which enables us to do so !

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